Building 3D Virtual Environments Class Syllabus

Building 3D Virtual Environments

Course Number: ARTS COL 762, 5 credits
Prequisites: 3D modeling/animation experience, permission of instructor

Current Quarter: Winter 2002

Instructors: Matthew Lewis and Peter Gerstmann
Meeting Times: TR, 1:30 to 3:48
Office Hours: by appt
Call Number: 19000-9
Class Location: 1224 Kinnear, Rm 238

Course Description:

This course provides an introduction to the creation and implications of single and multiple participant 3D virtual environments.

Course Objectives and/or Student Learning Outcomes:

Recent advances in real-time 3D technologies are allowing fully interactive virtual environments (VEs) to be created and displayed on common desktop and home gaming computers, instead of the expensive research machines of years past. As it becomes feasible for artists and designers to create these rich virtual environments, they need to be aware of both practical and aesthetic issues unique to interactive virtual worlds. It is this course's aim to present the techniques, experiences, and implications of VE development.

Students will be exposed to the state of the art virtual environment software and hardware. They will be given an overview of VE issues and implications. Students will learn to create and evaluate interactive virtual environments relevant to their discipline.

Course Methodology:

The course will attempt to survey most of the important issues surrounding the creation and experience of virtual environments (VEs). The many reasons and methods for creating virtual spaces will be discussed, as well as their implications. Examples of existing VEs will be shown whenever possible, but students will learn primarily by creating their own VEs. The class format will take on a variety of styles, as the disparate subjects dictate. Examples will be presented in lectures and demonstrations. Papers and videos will be discussed. Students will present their environments in critique sessions.

Students must demonstrate satisfactory achievement of course objectives through fulfillment of course projects and by contributing to class discussions and critiques. Course projects will require students to use a wide variety of software and equipment at ACCAD to produce virtual objects and environments. Collaboration between students in the course and other faculty, staff and students at ACCAD is encouraged. Course evaluation will be based on the following:

Projects one through five: 12% each
Final Project : 30%
Class Participation: 10%

Grading Policy:

All students are required to be on time and in attendance for each and every class. Students arriving to class more than 10 minutes late may be counted as absent. Two absences will lower a final grade by 1/2 a letter, three absences will lower a final grade by one letter and four absences will result in failure of the course.

Adherence to deadlines is expected. It is the individual student's responsibility to keep track of deadlines and to present the work to the class and instructor on the specified dates. 15% per day will be subtracted from late assignments.

Students choosing to use "at home" hardware and software must have their current working files on the system and available for review at the beginning of each and every class. Problems with home systems and/or incompatability will not be an acceptable excuse for missed goals. Technical problems will happen frequently during the semester and students will have trouble accessing the computer lab during "prime time" hours. Students must make their own arrangements for overcoming these difficulties and submitting their work on time. Unless there is a complete system failure in a computer-related course, technical difficulties are never an acceptable excuse for not meeting a deadline. Students should plan their time and work so as to anticipate the technical hurdles that are a part of this profession.

The college will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students should notify the Office of Disability Services and this instructor of any special needs. This instructor should be notified the first day of class.

Topics and Assignments:

Topics by week:
  1. Overview, Simple Modeling and Texturing
    1. Class overview
    2. VE representation overview
    3. VRML modeling
    4. Hierarchical scene graphs
    5. Representing geometry
    6. Representing material properties
  2. Low-poly modeling
    1. Common polgonal tools (maya)
    2. Optimization
  3. Texturing
    1. UV map construction
    2. Advanced mapping tools
  4. Environments, Navigation, Lighting
    1. Examples from videogames
    2. Hiding artifacts
    3. Navigation theory: collision, depth cues, interface design
    4. Backgrounds
    5. Lighting
    6. Virtual environment lab (hands-on multiuser VE game environment)
  5. Animation, Sound, Interactivity
    1. Animation:
      1. Event model, routing
      2. Triggers, timers, engines
      3. Key frame animation
    2. Sound:
      1. ambient vs. spactialized
      2. storage formats (pros/cons)
      3. triggering and modifying
    3. Interactivity:
      1. manipulating geometry
      2. manipulating the viewer
  6. Scripting
    1. Languages
    2. Vector math and functions
    3. Event data type conversion
    4. Maintaining state information
    5. Logic
  7. Generative Design
    1. Browser API
    2. Iterative modeling
    3. Stochastic design
  8. Advanced Scripting, Behavior
    1. Encapsulated models, detail hiding
    2. High-level object control interfaces
    3. Modeling behavior
    4. Attraction and repulsion
    5. Potential field obstacle avoidance
    6. Flocking
    7. Finite state machine "AI"
  9. Avatars, Multiuser (ref: Stephenson book)
    1. Examples: Active Worlds, On Live, etc.
    2. Real-time human figure design and uses
    3. Standards efforts
    4. Virtual community challenges, implications, and approaches
  10. VR Hardware
    1. Latest SIGGRAPH applications
    2. Videos of high-end military, amusement rides, etc. equipment
    3. OSC interface lab demos


  1. "Modeling a simple textured object"
  2. "Low-poly object modeling"
  3. "Texturing"
  4. "Navigable Environments"
  5. "Animation and Sound"
  6. "Final Project"

Student Work:

[2002] | [2001] | [2000] | [1999] | [1998]

Reading List:

Carey, Rikk and Gavin Bell. The Annotated VRML 2.0 Reference Manual Addison Wesley, 1997. Also available online at: .


Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. Bantam Spectra, 1992.

Library Resources:

Benedikt, Michael (ed). Cyberspace: First Steps. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991.
Damer, Bruce. Avatars! Peachpit Press, Berkeley, 1998.
Hartman, Jed and Josie Wernecke. The VRML 2.0 Handbook. Addison-Wesley, Reading, 1996.
Wilcox, Sue Ki. Web Guide to 3D Avatars. Wiley, New York, 1998.